There's something of a mixed message in Vogue India's May 2015 cover story, and you don't have to open the pages of the publication to see it. (Though the message does get muddier once you do.) The headline story reads "Love Your Curves" (that sounds promising, right?) as it zones in onto Bollywood actress Sonakshi Sinha. The budding star of India's film industry is beloved for her talent and relatable persona, as she's openly discussed her struggles with body image as a fuller-figured woman. Her subsequent weight loss has also been widely publicized.
If I spotted that headline — one that, when you think about it, uncomfortably gives a reader permission to love their curves — while browsing the covers of magazines as I stood in line somewhere, I'd inevitably pick up the publication to read more. A lot of women probably would. And that's precisely the point of it, I imagine. I mean, it's Vogue. The potential of the words "love your curves" being echoed at a magazine that carries so much weight in the fashion world is exciting!
Next I'd read the next words: "Be at your fashionable, fabulous, fittest best." Hmm, OK, so Vogue is telling me my curves are my best? Vogue is acknowledging that curvy can also be fit? Yes, finally! But I'd then read, "Sonakshi Sinha: Sizing up the straight-talking Bollywood bombshell." And a realization would dawn: Wait, I can't see any of this woman's curves... I'd flip the pages to find them. There's gotta be more, right?
And then I'd see this:
Wait, what? That's all? And my hopes of what I thought "Love your Curves" actually meant would be dashed. Wouldn't yours?
The problem with this whole scenario is not just that the photos of Sonakshi Sinha are (not even very covertly) hiding her legs in the cover, and weirdly covering her tummy with sheets in the editorial shot. The problem isn't even that I'm now judging my curves in comparison to hers (because most editorial imagery inspires these weird and destructive comparisons).
The real problem is that I've been manipulated into "sizing up" this woman, and judging her as a human being, just by reading a few headlines on the cover and seeing the accompanying photos. In my mind, I've already been told that Sinha is "curvy" or "fuller-figured." And that incites a viscous cycle of competition yet again — a reminder than perfectly slender or "average" women are automatically dubbed "curvy" or "plus-size" just because they fall above a size 4. It's not a "so what does that make me?" feeling, as that would imply that being larger than Sinha is a bad thing. It's more like a, "What message are we sending women when such a slender woman is deemed something aesthetically out of the ordinary, just because she has 'curves,' and then those 'curves' are hidden?"
Once I actually get to the article, then, my mind is already clouded by my own judgments, so any attempt orchestrated by the piece to incite inspiration or encouragement from Sinha's struggles and triumphs is rendered useless. I'm only thinking about how she didn't love her own curves and gave in to the pressure of becoming smaller. I've effectively been persuaded (either intentionally or unintentionally, I'm not sure) to be upset with the woman on the cover, not the people who made her ashamed of being "curvier" to begin with. (Vogue India has yet to respond to Bustle's request for comment on the matter, but this article will be updated if/when it does.)
It's easy to see the negativity and controversy that the photos combined with that headline can create. It's easy to get upset and feel like none of the major players in the fashion industry will ever portray fuller-figured women appropriately, celebrating their bodies by allowing their bodies to actually be visible. When a woman labeled "curvy" (a woman who most would see as curvy but still slender) is photographed in a way that covers the majority of her body, disillusionment is inevitable and it becomes easy to fear that the struggle for true size acceptance will never end.
Even if we cannot yet come to terms with how the media is still sending us mixed messages about our size, though, we can at least stop and think about where our anger is being targeted, and be kinder to the women who might be in the middle of the size spectrum. Curves are curves. And the small ones — the (still) hidden ones — deserve to be celebrated all the same.
Images: Vogue India